Orioles could quiet Ponson's critics by breaking silence, facing problem

August 29, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

HELLO?

Is anybody there?

OK, we get it. The Sidney Ponson situation has become one of those Employee Assistance Program things where confidentiality is crucial, but that's not good enough. It's one thing for the player with the three arrests on charges of driving under the influence to lawyer up ... quite another for the team to go silent on an issue that is as important to the community as it is to the player and the franchise.

We know, you don't have all the facts yet, but we're wondering just how many facts you need to come out and say the right thing. Sidney Ponson has been arrested on DUI charges three times during his time in the Orioles' organization - twice in the past eight months. He spent 11 days in jail for allegedly smacking a judge in Aruba last Christmas. That's a lot of facts.

The guy needs help. No great mystery there.

The guy has a problem with alcohol. That's no longer a very well-kept secret.

If he has asked for help through the EAP, the Orioles cannot talk about his course of treatment without his permission. Confidentiality really is one of the cornerstones of a successful drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, but that's not what we're talking about here.

The Orioles need to come out and make a firm statement about the behavior of one of their most prominent employees. They need to shout from the mountaintop that the team does not abide drunken driving and that it will do everything in its power to make sure that Ponson - or anyone else on the team, for that matter - no longer poses a danger to himself or others.

There is no doubt that they are working behind the scenes to address the problem. Club sources already have indicated that owner Peter Angelos is weighing the possibility of trying to void Ponson's contract. It's fair to assume that Orioles officials also are encouraging Ponson to get serious about his physical and mental health.

In the meantime, however, the same team that was thrown into public relations limbo four weeks ago when Rafael Palmeiro unveiled his novel I-wish-I-could-tell-you defense now finds itself in a similar situation with Ponson.

Ponson wasn't at the ballpark for the third game in a row yesterday, but supposedly he has not been suspended.

Club sources indicate that he has yet to agree to accept inpatient treatment to deal with his demons, though he told interim manager Sam Perlozzo on Thursday that he was going to get his life together.

This is just what the front office didn't need in the wake of the Palmeiro steroid scandal and the team's dramatic fall from grace in the American League East. Ponson has inadvertently confirmed the suspicion of many fans that the organization is in complete top-to-bottom disarray.

I don't share that view, but I can understand how people might wonder when it's been four days since Ponson's latest arrest, and there hasn't been an official peep from the B&O warehouse.

Orioles officials probably could make the case that they are just fresh out of answers after a month that started with the Palmeiro steroid revelation, quickly segued into a managerial change and now is ending with the team in full-blown collapse.

Co-general managers Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan remain unsigned beyond this season, which might explain their hesitance to get out in front of this latest disturbing development, but I think it would be a mistake to adopt a bunker mentality. If ever there were a time to step up and prove that they are the dynamic leaders this franchise needs to point it toward a better future, this is it.

Beattie met with reporters briefly yesterday, saying only that he could not comment about the Ponson situation, but he hoped that the club would be able to address the situation publicly soon.

There hasn't been a word from the Ponson camp, either, unless you count some sympathetic comments from Orioles Aruban scout Chu Halabi. Agent Barry Praver was in Baltimore over the weekend, but he didn't make himself available to the media.

Funny, but Praver was always available to tell us about Sidney's "warrior mentality" when he was trying to get him that $22.5 million contract. Now, the least he could do is convince his client to release a statement apologizing to the Orioles and their fans for embarrassing them yet again. The Orioles should have demanded that on Thursday.

I'm guessing Praver is just here to try to cut Ponson's losses by negotiating the walk-away money, even though that would do nothing to help the guy overcome a life-threatening problem.

I hope I'm wrong, but what else are we supposed to think?

Hello?

This silence isn't golden.

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